When we made it back to the restaurant, Paula, having closed up shop and thrown a brown suede jacket over her stylish ensemble, stood ready by the door. The four of us piled into the sedan, and Fernando continued playing docent. He drove for an hour, singling out landscapes that might interest David’s artistic eye. When we reached the tip of the peninsula, we stopped in a small fishing village, where we watched the sun set as we sampled some more of that Portuguese espresso.
Once back in the car, David, who is used to deflecting the spotlight my way, mentioned my writing and how much I love to read. Thus began the new focus of our tour. Fernando whisked us to a shopping mall and led us into Fnac, a French-based chain of book and music stores. The mall — so modern, well kept, and bustling with people — was jarring after a full day of quaint, barren towns.
While David and Paula wandered around, Fernando led me to the foreign-language section and began pulling down books — the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges (who was Argentine but wrote in Portuguese) and the Portuguese poet and philosopher Fernando Pessoa. Enlivened by his passion for Pessoa, Fernando insisted I flip to any page (“Is not matter which; all equal are good”) and read a poem. I did and was duly impressed. “I will be ordering some of this from Amazon as soon as I get home,” I said.
While Fernando and I had been geeking out over poetry, Paula had been on a clandestine mission. When the four of us reconvened in the middle of the store, she presented David and me with specialized chocolates — for David, a chocolate camera; for me, a bag of chocolate letters and an oversized chocolate pencil. We were awed by her generosity and thoughtfulness.
Fernando invited us to join him and Paula for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Porto to celebrate his birthday, which had fallen on the previous day. On the way there, and on the way back to our hotel afterward, he continued to regale us with tales of Portuguese prowess. We bid Paula and Fernando farewell in front of our hotel, 11 hours after Fernando had come to collect us. “Is nice to see both of you in Portugal and show you a little piece of this country,” said Fernando. Paula smiled. “Keep in touch and beginning to plan a bigger trip to Portugal. You are always welcome, and if you need something and we can help, is just to say.”
Hugs were exchanged, and each cheek was kissed. As Fernando and Paula disappeared back up the steep hillside, David and I gazed at the stunning, Monet-like sight of the glimmering bridge over shimmering water and reflected on the warmth and kindness that had been extended to us by our new Portuguese friends.